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Congressman: Intel chip a privacy hazard

In a letter to Intel CEO Craig Barrett, Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey says Intel's forthcoming security-embedded chip "compromises personal privacy."

A senior U.S. Congressman has written Intel CEO Craig Barrett, expressing concerns that Intel's plan to put serial numbers on its next-generation Pentium chips raises serious privacy issues. Intel says the letter is based on a misunderstanding of the company's intent and technology.

The office of U.S. Representative Edward J. Markey, D-Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the House Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, today released the text of the letter.

"In my opinion, Intel's new product improves technology for online commerce in a way that compromises personal privacy," Markey wrote Barrett. Intel announced this week that it will embed serial numbers on each of its new Pentium III chips in an effort to improve Internet security.

Privacy advocates have said the announcement could lead to the erosion of computer users' privacy, and now Congressman Markey is taking up their cause.

"It's clear that Congressman Markey doesn't have the complete story," said Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy. "We will be in touch on Monday to set up a briefing. He doesn't seem to understand that the end user, the consumer has the ultimate authority to turn the [display of the serial number] on and off."

"We are in agreement in principle with a lot of the comments in the letter," Mulloy added.

Markey's office released a copy of the letter with a press release late today.

"I hope that Intel will seek to design its products to improve the security of electronic commerce transactions without putting consumer privacy at risk," Markey's letter concluded. "I encourage you to examine the privacy implications of the Pentium III and ascertain whether further improvements can be made to better balance both commercial and privacy objectives."

The serial numbers to be embedded in Intel's Pentium III processor could be misused to identify and collect data on Web surfers, some privacy advocates warn. But Intel argues that the technology will actually make the Net a safer place.